May is quite a good month really, (and not just because that’s when my birthday is), but because it’s bookended by two bank holidays- an extra-long weekend and an extra short working week- it’s a win-win.
Well… It is if we get good weather- unfortunately living in England, bank holiday weekends are approached with trepidation: ‘will it be sunny or will be all be trapped inside yet again because a year’s worth of rain decides to empty itself all over the country?’
Fortunately, we were quite lucky with this May bank holiday, with two lovely sunny days and one cloudy but thankfully dry day. So, what better time to try out yet another one of my birthday presents? No, not the spiralizer- that treat is still to come!
The item in question is a National Trust membership that I got from my boyfriend, (I did say before I’m a bit of an old lady). And it would seem our youth surprised the woman who greeted us as we entered Melford Hall- “Shouldn’t you be over there?” she asked, referring to the LeeStock Festival that was also happening at Melford over the weekend. “Well, it’s nice to see young people taking an interest.”
While many children would probably frown at the thought of wandering around a stately home, Melford Hall does have something that others don’t- a link to one of Britain’s most treasured children’s authors, Beatrix Potter.
Located in Suffolk, and still home to the current generation of the Hyde-Parker family, Melford Hall has a varied history, and as well as offering a view of days gone by, it offers an insight into Beatrix Potter’s life and the creation of some of the nation’s favourite characters.
Known affectionately as Cousin Beattie to the Hyde-Parker family, Beatrix stayed at Melford many times over the years, and you’ll find many references to her as you look around; while younger guests may not be so interested in the history, they can have great fun searching for Beatrix’s most famous friend, Peter Rabbit.
Amongst the rooms you can walk through when touring the house is the West Bedroom that Beatrix stayed in when she visited. The room is decorated with little pieces of her, from a shawl she gifted to the late Lady Ulla, to a small drawing she did of a huge mouse sleeping in her bed hanging on the wall. The Room Guide also regaled us with the tale of how the children in the house were always eager to see which of her menagerie of animals she would bring with her; apparently one time it was a porcupine, and he was housed in the adjoining turret room for the duration of her stay.
Mementoes of Beatrix’s visits can be found throughout the house, mainly in the form of her sketches and illustrations which line the walls of the North and West corridors- she actually used the pond in the gardens of Melford Hall as inspiration for some of the drawings that accompanied The Tale of Jeremy Fisher. More examples of her creativity can be found in the dining room where place cards can be found featuring her characters, and in the nursery where a model she made of Jemima Puddleduck is housed.
While Beatrix Potter is massive part of Melford’s appeal, the house itself also has an intriguing history, and in all honesty, one particular resident seems to be woven into the fabric of the house just as much as Beatrix. Lady Ulla Hyde-Parker came from Denmark to marry Sir William, the 11th Baronet, and she seems to be very much a part of Melford Hall. During the Second World War, the house played host to the army, and in February 1942 a fire broke out, completely destroying the North Wing of the house. The family were determined to rebuild it, but it was under Lady Ulla’s supervision and influence that the more modest interior we walk around was constructed.
During my visit something that really struck me was a comment the Room Guide in Lady Ulla’s private quarters said- when Lady Ulla first came at Melford she arrived at a house similar to Downton Abbey, managing the servants and the day-to-day running of the house, however by the end of her life, she was living in just a few rooms. I’d imagine coming over from Denmark must have been daunting enough, but to live through such a massive change must have incredibly challenging; it’s so strange to think that it occurred during the course of one person’s lifetime.
Outside has something to offer too, with the main garden path leading up to the Banqueting House which offers a lovely view over the gardens, and if you fancy it, you can even try your hand at croquet on the lawn. While not as grand as some National Trust Properties, Melford Hall is truly lovely day out, and offers a fascinating insight into the lives of two women; one who is a national treasure, and the other virtually unknown but no less incredible.